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Machshavot HaRav: Reflections from Rabbi Waxman


Remembering the Holocaust, One Person at a Time


There were several of them outside of the building in which we were staying in Rome, which was located at the edge of what had been the Jewish quarter. They are called stumbling stones. These brass markers set into the pavement in front of their last known address serve as memorials to the victims of the Holocaust. Each stumbling stone includes a name, the person’s date of birth, the day he/she was taken away and his/her fate. We encountered them again a few years later when we walked through the former Jewish neighborhood of Amsterdam, not far from the Portuguese synagogue. Today there are some 70,000 of these markers in 1,200 cities across Europe. It is actually surprising that there aren’t more, as their cost is relatively modest: about $120.


Many cities have large-scale Holocaust memorials, but these small roughly 4-inch square (more precisely 10 centimeters square) markers may be a more poignant reminder of the cost of the Holocaust: they personalize the victims. True, in a number of cities, such as Prague and Paris, the names are inscribed on walls of memorials, but to encounter these small pavement markers is to come face to face with them during one’s daily routine.


76 years after the end of World War II, on this Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day—it was moved up a day so as not to run into Shabbat--, we search for ways to remind ourselves and those around of us of the toll of the Holocaust. 6 million is a staggering number; we can’t wrap our heads around it. (And sadly, despite herculean efforts, a million of those who perished remain anonymous; their names yet to be recovered.) But to give names to the victims serve as potent memorials. These brass markers, these stumbling stones, transform statistics into human beings. As we mark yet another somber day of remembrance of those who were murdered during the Holocaust that is precisely what we need to remember: the individuality of each and every one who perished.


Shabbat shalom.



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Chadashot MeYisrael:  News From Israel


Covid Test Redux


Nearly half a year ago, at the beginning of October, I reported on the development of a rapid method of detecting the Covid-19 virus, using a gargle test. Within the past week, the handheld SpectraLT, which was developed by Newsight in conjunction with Sheba Medical Center, and which was being tested at 36 hospitals around the globe, has now received EU approval for a swab version of the test.


According to Dr. Eyal Zimlichman, the approval represents “an important milestone for fast testing. Despite the global rollout of vaccination efforts COVID-19 still needs rapid diagnostic solutions to take steps back to normality, including international travel…”


The device offers a relatively high degree of accuracy—in the 70 to 80% range—and the expectation is that over time the accuracy rate will rise. It is further anticipated that within the coming months, that both the swab version, as well as the gargle test, will be rolled out at airports.


Instead of relying on chemicals and lab procedures to make the virus RNA detectable, the SpectralLT devices shine light through the sample and onto a specially formulated chip to determine whether a person is COVID-positive.  The software is continually being updated to cover new strains and variants of the disease.






Payrush LaParshahah:

A Comment on the Weekly Torah Portion


The portion of Shemini (Leviticus 10:12-11:32) is read this Saturday, April 10th


11:13. The following you shall abominate among the birds—they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, the vulture, and the black vulture… (29) The following shall be impure for you from among the things that swarm on the earth: the mole, the mouse, and great lizards every variety, (30) the gecko, the land crocodile, the lizard, the sand lizard, and the chameleon.


Do not take the contemptible view that Moses enacted this legislation because of an excessive preoccupation with mice and weasels or suchlike creatures. The fact is that everything has been solemnly set in order for unblemished investigation and amendment of life for the sake of righteousness. The birds which we use are all domesticated and of exceptional cleanliness, their food consisting of wheat and pulse—such birds as pigeons, turtledoves, locusts, partridges, and, in addition, geese and others of the same kind.


As to the birds which are forbidden, you will find wild and carnivorous kinds, and the rest which dominate by their own strength, and who find their food at the expense of the aforementioned domesticated birds—which is an injustice; and not only that they also seize lambs and kids and outrage human beings dead or alive. By calling them impure, he has thereby indicated that it is the solemn binding duty of those for whom the legislation has been established to practice righteousness and not to lord it over anyone in reliance upon their own strength, nor to deprive him of anything, but to govern their lives righteously, in the manner of the gentle creatures among the aforementioned birds which feed on those plants which grow on the ground and do not exercise a domination leading to the destruction of their fellow creatures. . . .


Thus, the cloven hoof, that is the separation of the claws of the hoof, is a sign of setting apart each of our actions for good, because the strength of the whole body with its action rests upon the shoulders and the legs. The symbolism conveyed by these things compels us to make a distinction in the performance of all our acts, with righteousness as our aim . . . .


Rumination is nothing but the recalling of (the creature’s) life and constitution, life being usually constituted by nourishment. So we are exhorted through scripture. also by the one who says thus, “Thou shalt remember the Lord, who did great and wonderful deeds in thee . . .”


The species of weasel is unique: Apart from the aforementioned characteristic, it has another polluting feature, that of conceiving through its ears and producing its young through its mouth. So, for this reason any similar feature in men is unclean; men who hear anything and give physical expression to it by word of mouth, thus embroiling other people in evil, commit no ordinary act of uncleanliness, and are themselves completely defiled with the taint of impiety. (The Letter of Aristeas cited in Professor Rabbi Joshua Garroway, “The Earliest Explanation for Kosher,” The document, also known as The Letter of Philocrates, who ostensibly was the author’s brother, is an early Jewish apologetic probably composed in the 2nd century BCE. Its main focus is on the creation of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Bible, in the previous century. However, as this passage suggests, it is in the words of the 20th century scholar Emil Schurer, “Jewish propaganda in Pagan disguise,” whose works are “directed to the pagan reader, in order to make propaganda for Judaism among the Gentiles.” It is included in the Pseudepigrapha, Jewish writings from the “intertestamental period”, not included in either Bible or in the Apocrypha.)






Questions for Shemini 5781 (Leviticus 10:12-11:32)


  1. Which offerings, or portions of them, could the priests share with their families? Were there any restrictions on their consumption?
  2. Was Moses’ anger at his nephews justified?
  3. How does Aaron defend the behavior of his sons?
  4. Are Bambi’s relatives in the category of kosher animals? How about the ibex? The giraffe? The zebra?
  5. Would meat produced artificially based on material garnered from forbidden animals be considered kosher? How about lab produced meat: is it fleishig or pareve?
  6. Is swordfish kosher?
  7. If a bird isn’t mentioned on the list is it ab initio kosher? Is the partridge in the pear tree kosher?  Can one have pheasant under glass? What might be the problem with turkey as a kosher bird?
  8. Chocolate dipped grasshoppers? Kosher or not?
  9. If one shook hands with the Geico Gecko would one be ritually impure?


Sun, April 11 2021 29 Nisan 5781